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Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

The near future: Autonomous killerbots from unknown sources

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This was all discussed in Daniel Suarez’s excellent tech-sci-fi novel Kill Decision: swarms of small (and inexpensive) autonomous killerbots. Here’s another view, via Jason Kottke (from a post worth reading):

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2017 at 10:01 am

What Jeff Bezos wants for Christmas is. . .world peace (with the help of some spies and special forces types)

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Very intriguing article by Danny Fortson in the Times:

Buried deep beneath the white marble foyer of the US Institute of Peace (Usip), with its sweeping views across the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, is a cavernous, black-walled basement. Workers call it the “bat cave”. For good reason. The windowless lair is the site of a bold experiment: Amazon’s plunge into the peace-making business.

Having almost wiped out the high street and stolen a march on rivals in the race to develop artificial intelligence, the $570bn (£426bn) retail giant is trying its hand at solving problems far trickier than next-day delivery. Challenges such as terrorism, corruption, resource scarcity and violent extremism.

Amazon is a founding partner of the PeaceTech Accelerator, an obscure joint-venture of military men, former spies, peaceniks and industry that it launched last year with C5 Capital, the London investment firm run by Andre Pienaar, a politically connected corporate intelligence veteran, and the PeaceTech Lab, a spin-off of Usip.

Sheldon Himelfarb, PeaceTech Lab’s chief executive, called it “the future of peace-building”. He added: “Governments simply do not have the resources to move upstream and do conflict prevention in the world. Partnerships with the private sector like this are good business and good for the future of the planet.”

The Seattle giant’s foray into war prevention is perhaps the most striking example yet of its boundless ambitions. It also points to its increasingly close relationship with the US government. Amazon Web Services (AWS) last month announced the launch of Secret Region, a cloud platform specially designed for the CIA and other government intelligence agencies. Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, has laid down roots in the capital. The world’s richest man ($90bn) was revealed in January as the anonymous buyer of a $23m, 27,000 sq ft mansion in the same neighbourhood as the Obamas and several cabinet officials.

The PeaceTech accelerator scours the globe for start-ups in conflict zones, brings them to the American capital for an intensive eight-week course of mentorship and meetings, and then sends them back to their home countries, often with a new government contract in hand.

AWS uses its unique vantage point as the world’s biggest provider of cloud services to funnel interesting start-ups to the “bat cave”. Once there, it provides them up to $50,000 in free “cloud credits” as well as mentors and corporate coaches.

The accelerator also relies on social media advertising, as well as partners like SAP’s national security division, which recently joined the programme, to lure talent. At the end of the programme, the Accelerator has the option of taking a small equity stake in its graduates.

Himelfarb, a veteran of peace campaigns from Burundi to Bosnia, went to great pains to make clear that the accelerator was an independent NGO with no direct government affiliation, despite its connections in Washington — and location in the bowels of the Usip.

The latter was created by an act of Congress in 1984 as a body “devoted to the non-violent prevention and mitigation of deadly conflict abroad”. It sits across the street from the State Department. The board of directors includes Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and General Jim Mattis, secretary of defence, as well as congressmen from both sides of the aisle.

The PeaceTech Lab, which oversees the accelerator, was spun out in 2014 as a stand-alone entity to apply technology to conflict resolution. It receives funding from some government contracts, but is not directly financed by Washington. Instead it relies on donors and corporate partners. Himelfarb said: “We couldn’t have private sector funding under the charter for Usip. They spun us out so we could be more entrepreneurial.”

Himelfarb said that when C5 and Amazon suggested creating an accelerator, it was “a dream come true”. He added: “As my friends in the military tell me all the time, ‘You can have a vision, Sheldon, but vision without resources is a mirage’.”

He now has resources. Perhaps more importantly, he has acquired the connections. Ron Moultrie spent nearly four decades in American intelligence. A Russian linguist who served in the CIA before moving to the National Security Agency, he retired in 2015 after five years as head of operations, the third in command of the world’s biggest cyber-espionage organisation.

He helped to get the accelerator off the ground via his role as chairman of C5’s American division. The seasoned spy, who still travels under aliases and has top-secret security clearance, chuckled at the notion that the government had turned to Amazon to scout for on-the-ground intelligence help. “I’d hope that if the intelligence community wanted or needed to be able to put that net out there, they’d have another way of doing it,” he said. “This is just a collaboration of riches you have here, where everything has fallen together at the right time.”

What is clear is that US intelligence has come under fire for failings for years, going back to the first Iraq War when it relied on bogus information from an Iraqi informant called “Curveball”, all the way up to last year’s election, when authorities were caught flat-footed by Russia’s misinformation campaign.

The 3bn-plus smartphones in the world, packed with cameras, sensors and GPS trackers, have opened a new front. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in Somalia or South Sudan or downtown London, almost everybody has a smartphone,” said Nancy Payne, PeaceTech’s vice-president. “Traditional peacebuilding is not going away, but why not actually try to figure out how you can tackle complex social problems using technology in the same way that you’re using it to figure out how you disrupt the taxi industry?”

RedCrow, a programme alumnus based in Ramallah, in the Palestinian territories, is but one example. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2017 at 7:07 am

A Policeman’s Bear Hug Stops a Suicide Bomber From Killing More

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Rob Nordland and Fahim Abed report in the NY Times:

KABUL, Afghanistan — No one will ever know what went through the mind of Afghan Police Lt. Sayed Basam Pacha in those moments when he came face to face with a man he suspected of being a suicide bomber on Thursday afternoon, but whatever it was, he did not hesitate to act.

At his back was a crowd of civilians, many of them dignitaries, leaving the hall he was guarding. Around him were officers from the police company he commanded. The suspect had just approached their heavily guarded gate, the only way in or out of the compound around the hall.

Broad-shouldered and heavily muscled, Lieutenant Pacha shouted at the suspect to halt, but instead the man started running. The officer stopped him, throwing his arms around him in a bear hug.

A second later the bomber detonated the explosive vest hidden under his coat. Fourteen people, including Lieutenant Pacha and seven other police officers as well as six civilians, were killed; 18 others were wounded, seven police and 11 civilians, said Basir Mujahed, a police spokesman.

There was little doubt the death toll would have been far higher without the lieutenant’s body blunting the blast, Mr. Mujahed said.

“He’s a hero, he saved many lives,” he said. “All seven of those policemen are heroes but especially him. Just think if that suicide attacker got past the gate, what would have happened — you cannot even imagine.”

Lieutenant Pacha’s father, Gen. Sayed Nizam Agha, is also a police commander.

“My son sacrificed himself to save other people,” General Agha said, proud but tearful when reached by telephone. He wept as he recounted his son’s story.

“He had two bachelor degrees, one in political science and another one at the police academy,” the father said. “He studied five years in Turkey.  . .

Continue reading.

And do read the whole thing. It shows the individual rather than statistical side of terror attacks.  Very impressive report.

And then read “Taliban ‘Red Unit’ With Night Vision Kills Dozens of Afghan Officers.”

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2017 at 2:08 pm

NSA Secretly Helped Convict Defendants In U.S. Courts, Classified Documents Reveal

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Trevor Aaronson reports in The Intercept:

Fazliddin Kurbanov is a barrel-chested man from Uzbekistan who came to the United States in 2009, when he was in his late 20s. A Christian who had converted from Islam, Kurbanov arrived as a refugee and spoke little English. Resettled in Boise, Idaho, he rented an apartment, worked odd jobs, and was studying to be a truck driver.

But about three years after entering the U.S., around the time he converted back to Islam, Kurbanov was placed under FBI surveillance. According to emails and internet chat logs obtained by the government, Kurbanov was disgusted by having seen Americans burn the Quran and by reports that an American soldier had tried to rape a Muslim girl. “My entire life, everything, changed,” Kurbanov wrote in a July 31, 2012 email.

After the FBI assigned one informant to live with him and another informant to attend his truck-driving school, Kurbanov was arrested in May 2013. Prosecutors accused him of providing material support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and possessing bomb-making materials.

During Kurbanov’s trial, the government notified him that his conversations with an alleged Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan associate based in Pakistan had been intercepted. The spying, federal prosecutors said, had been authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which regulates the monitoring of agents of foreign governments and terrorist organizations. Kurbanov was convicted at trial and sentenced to 25 years in prison, after which he’ll be deported to Uzbekistan. He is an apparent success story for U.S. counterterrorism officials. If there was any doubt about Kurbanov’s propensity for violence, he eliminated it by stabbing a prison warden in California, an act for which he is now facing additional charges.

But Justice Department lawyers gained their conviction against Kurbanov after failing to disclose a legally significant fact: Kurbanov’s conversations with his alleged terrorist associate had been captured through PRISM, a National Security Agency mass surveillance program whose existence was revealed in documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Under PRISM, the government obtains communications directly from at least eight large technology companies without the need for warrants, a type of practice authorized in 2008, when Congress provided new surveillance powers under FISA.

While traditional FISA authority permits spying on a particular person or group through warrants issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, under the new powers, codified in FISA Section 702, monitoring is approved in bulk by the court through what is essentially a recipe for mass surveillance. Once approved, such a recipe can be used against thousands of targets. Under Section 702 authority, the NSA is currently monitoring digital communications of more than 100,000 people; it swept up an estimated 250 million internet communications each year as of a 2011 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinion. The FBI frequently searches Section 702 databases when it opens national security and domestic criminal “assessments,” precursors to full investigations.

According to a slide in an NSA presentation, provided by Snowden and published for the first time today by The Intercept, the interception of Kurbanov’s conversations was a “Reporting Highlight” for PRISM. The document indicates that the NSA captured Kurbanov’s Skype conversations from October 2012 through April 2013, roughly the same period the FBI was investigating him with undercover informants. It further details how an NSA unit in April 2013 issued a report describing “how Kurbanov believed he was under surveillance (which he is by the FBI) but was cautiously continuing his work, which was not specified — could be raising money for the IMU or explosive testing.” The alleged terrorist associate with whom Kurbanov was communicating “wanted Kurbanov to set this work in motion, probably related to sending money back to the IMU,” the document added.

The government is obligated to disclose to criminal defendants when information against them originates from Section 702 reporting, but federal prosecutors did not do so in Kurbanov’s case. In fact, when Kurbanov’s lawyers demanded disclosure of FISA-related evidence and the suppression of that evidence, Attorney General Eric Holder asserted national security privilege, claiming in a declaration that disclosure of FISA information would “harm the national security of the United States.” Kurbanov’s lawyer, Chuck Peterson, declined to comment about the government’s use of Section 702 surveillance against his client.

Kurbanov does not appear to be the only defendant kept in the dark about how warrantless surveillance was used against him. A nationwide review of federal court records by The Intercept found that of 75 terrorism defendants notified of some type of FISA spying since Section 702 became law, just 10 received notice of Section 702 surveillance. And yet Section 702 was credited with “well over 100 arrests on terrorism-related offenses” in a July 2014 report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the federal entity created to oversee intelligence authorities granted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Additional documents from Snowden, previously unpublished and dated before the Kurbanov case, provide further examples of how NSA intelligence repeatedly played an undisclosed role in bringing accused terrorists to trial in U.S. courts over the past decade and a half. They also reveal an instance in which the NSA incorrectly identified a U.S. citizen as a foreign target of a FISA warrant.

Civil liberties advocates have long suspected that the Justice Department is underreporting Section 702 cases in order to limit court challenges to the controversial law. . .

Continue reading.

This article is the seventh in a series that The Intercept has been publishing. The full list to date:

Part 1: More Than 400 People Convicted of Terrorism in the U.S. Have Been Released Since 9/11

Part 2: Terrorism Defendants With Concrete Ties to Violent Extremists Leverage Their Connections to Avoid Prison

Part 3: FBI Stings Zero In on ISIS Sympathizers. Few Have Terrorist Links.

Part 4: The Government’s Own Data Shows Country of Origin Is a Poor Predictor of Terrorist Threat

Part 5: The U.S. Has Released 417 Alleged Terrorists Since 9/11. The Latest Owned an Islamic Bookstore.

Part 6: The FBI Pressured a Lonely Young Man Into a Bomb Plot. He Tried to Back Out. Now He’s Serving Life in Prison.

Part 7: NSA Secretly Helped Convict Defendants in U.S. Courts, Classified Documents Reveal

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2017 at 11:05 am

Why has Fox News abandoned Benghazi?

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Eric Wemple writes in the Washington Post:

It was December 2012, just a few months after terrorists attacked the U.S. diplomatic installation in Benghazi, Libya. Sean Hannity of Fox News was continuing his extensive coverage of the attack, as well as his denunciations of what he viewed as less inquisitive media peers. “We will continue to follow the story that the mainstream media ignores. We have four dead Americans, including two SEALs and the first ambassador killed in 30 years. And, obviously, a cover-up. And we will get to the bottom of it,” he said.

The fiery Fox News host now has an ally in that noble pursuit. There’s a trial well underway at the D.C. federal courthouse in which Libyan Ahmed Abu Khattala stands accused of conspiracy to support terrorism, among other charges, in the September 2012 attacks that quickly became a divisive political issue in the United States, with then-President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, pilloried for various alleged acts of incompetence and deception.

Truth is dribbling out of the now-six-week-long trial. We’re discovering that the United States paid a Libyan informant $7 million to secure key information from Khattala. The relationship between informant and suspect developed over many months and proved critical in assisting U.S. forces in capturing Khattala. Under the pseudonym of Ali Majrisi, the informant spoke at trial of how Khattala intended to kill “everyone there” at the Benghazi installation, a bloody ambition that extended to a rescue force that U.S. officials had sent that night from Tripoli. In other testimony, CIA officers detailed efforts to rescue U.S. personnel under attack in the Libyan city.

Good thing Fox News is there to finish the obsessive work it started, to provide a day-by-day narration of U.S. law enforcement bringing American justice to an alleged terrorist.

Um, actually: Those trial updates cited above come from Adam Goldman of the New York Times and Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post, both of whom have filed dispatches over the course of this lengthy trial. As for Fox News, there was this dispatch on the trial’s opening statements. There was this Associated Press story on about the trial’s possible impact on proposals to send terrorism suspects to Guantanamo Bay. And another dispatch, also from the APAnother dispatch, also from the AP. (There’s been other coverage of charges against another suspect in the attacks, Mustafa al-Imam.)

Fox News, outsourcing its Benghazi reporting to the AP? This is the same AP, mind you, that former Fox News chief Roger Ailes disparaged years ago. “It tips left all the time now,” said Ailes, who was bounced from Fox News over sexual harassment claims in 2016 and died this year.

As far as TV coverage, a Nexis search for “Benghazi and Khattala” over the past three months yields just one small mention — four sentences — on the Oct. 2 edition of “Special Report with Bret Baier.” (Nexis covers mostly prime-time shows). If Fox News’s trial coverage were consistent with its previous volume, it would be doing hourly updates from the trial, live blogs and promos, plus round-the-clock commentary on its opinion shows.

Instead, we’re stuck with the “cover-up” gang, as Hannity might say. The New York Times’ Goldman says, “I think the New York Times and The Washington Post and the mainstream media recognized the importance of covering this trial. It was a devastating terrorist attack. Four American lives were lost. We should cover this for the public. So I’m a little surprised that other American media outlets aren’t covering this trial to provide their readers or viewers with real facts.”

The drop-off is stark and inexplicable. In the 20 months following the attacks, Fox News ran in excess of 1,000 segments on Benghazi, according to a September 2014 report by Media Matters. The focus remained intact even after that, spiking upon the release of the “13 Hours” book and movie — a compelling account from the security operators who saved many American lives that night. “This movie, if it’s really popular, is going to force [Hillary Clinton] to answer some questions,” said Steve Doocy on “Fox & Friends” about the movie, which premiered during the 2016 presidential primary season.

So, why would Fox News go nuts about a Benghazi movie in early 2016, yet yawn over a Benghazi trial in 2017?  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2017 at 1:08 pm

Posted in GOP, Media, Terrorism

White Male Terrorists Are an Issue We Should Discuss

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Lincoln Anthony Blades has a good article in Teen Vogue:

Since September 11, 2001, preventing terrorism in the United States has become one of the main concerns of citizens, policymakers, and law enforcement agencies. Leaders believe that battling “terror” isn’t just done by waging war on jihadists themselves, but also on their ideology. When an attack whose perpetrator is affiliated with Islam occurs on American soil, the nation collectively recoils in horror at the audacious attack, mourns for those we’ve lost, and then subsequently doubles down on rooting out any semblance of pro-extremist thought in our society.

When the assailant is identified, intelligence agencies conduct a thorough investigation into the subject’s known terror ties. These ties are provided to outlets that, in real time, condemn the violent extremism that animated the subject. When bad actors align themselves with extremist Islamic ideology, information about those who propagate this dangerous dogma is eagerly consumed because we deem it essential — not to just know what happened, but everything and every person that may have influenced what happened. Yet when it comes to domestic terrorism carried out by white men, such thorough accounting lacks.

Last week, America found itself in a terrifying and simultaneously familiar place: mourning the loss of life after a mass shooting. On Sunday, April 30, Monique Clark, a 35-year-old mother of three daughters, was killed after a gunman opened fire at guests at a poolside party inside an apartment complex. In addition to Clark, six other people — mostly black and Latinx — were injured in the shooting spree by a 49-year-old white male named Peter Selis. In the wake of the attack, witnesses and victims attested that race was a prominent factor in the shooting. Yet San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said just one day after the shooting that there was “zero information” that race contributed to the attack. (Navy Lt. j.g. Lauren Chapman, one of the attendees of the party, said she felt “heartbreak” at the police’s dismissal of this motive, which witnesses say was a major factor.) The shooting received such little immediate coverage that people took to social media to blast major networks and politicians for their lack of reporting, and terror context. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2017 at 10:44 am

The USA PATRIOT Act: What You Need to Know

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Fergus O’Sullivan has a nice rundown of the USA PATRIOT Act:

Here at we’re big fans of privacy and even bigger fans of people protecting it. We’ve done an article on 99 free privacy tools and we’ve reported on the U.S. Congress allowing American ISPs to spy on their customers. In this article we’re going to take a look at the grandaddy of modern privacy-breaching legislation, the USA PATRIOT Act.

What Is the Patriot Act?

The Patriot Act, to give it its common name, was passed shortly after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, but was not, as most people think, directly related to that. In fact, it’s passage through the houses of parliament was spurred on by the anthrax attacks of late 2001, when celebrities, politicians and plenty of others received suspicious packages of white powder in the mail.

This bit of mail-based nastiness was the perfect fuel on a fire already burning bright and on October 25, 2001, The U.S. Senate passed the, and it’s a mouthful, Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The Patriot Act passed both houses almost unanimously, with only 66 Representatives and a single Senator voting against this rather scary piece of legislation.

Now, ever since Edward Snowden came out and spilled the beans on PRISM, SOMALGET and all the other off-the-books programs organized by the NSA, CIA and whatever other alphabet agencies, we all have gotten used to that the government might be listening. Back in 2001, however, all this was new and many people could be forgiven for thinking that it would all blow over.

It didn’t. Many of the surveillance in place now on both Americans as well as other parts of the world was directly inspired by the programs that came out of the passing of the Patriot Act. It’s tempting to think that it was because legislators the world over saw the ease with which the U.S. was able to put a massive surveillance apparatus in place with approval from most of its people, but it’s hard to say exactly.

What’s In the Patriot Act?

Though it’s difficult to give a full overview of what the Patriot Act made possible, even a summary reads like some tinpot dictator’s wish list. The Act,

  • Allowed civilian authorities to request aid from the military to keep order in certain cases
  • Expanded the scope of the spying allowed on both U.S. citizens as well as foreigners in the name of “removing obstacles to investigating terrorism”
  • Introduced several new kinds of warrants, some of which could be served on the flimsiest of pretexts (including “sneak-and-peek” warrants)
  • Weakened banking secrecy regulations to prevent money laundering
  • Gave more authority to the various U.S. border protection agencies to refuse entry to people they didn’t like (if you’ve ever been yelled at at the U.S. border for wanting to go on holiday, now you know why)
  • Changed a whole bunch of legal terminology to make prosecuting suspected terrorists easier (so now pipe bombs are weapons of mass destruction)

For a full overview, Wikipedia has a great breakdown of the Patriot Act, though we recommend the usual grain of salt while reading this open-source encyclopedia.

For those wondering, the Patriot Act did not allow for extraordinary rendition (the fun practice where the U.S. would fly people out to sunny vacation spots to be tortured), it just made it easier to implement it. The basis for rendition was actually laid by Bill Clinton.

Effects of the Patriot Act . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 November 2017 at 1:22 pm

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